2019 novel coronavirus

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

BOONE — While the risk of Western North Carolinians contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus is said to be low, AppHealthCare said in a Jan. 31 statement that it is closely monitoring the spread of the virus.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are working closely with local, state and federal partners to stay on top of the latest information related to this virus,” said AppHealthCare, the local public health department, in a statement. “As of this date, no cases have been identified in North Carolina.”

The 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is an upper respiratory virus that was first identified in the city of Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Travelers who visited Wuhan brought the disease to America in January. Currently there are 11 reported cases in five states – Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington state – as of Feb. 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services stated.

“Symptoms can include fever, cough or difficulty breathing,” AppHealthCare said. “Human coronaviruses are most commonly spread from an infected person by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact including touching and shaking hands (according to the Centers for Disease Control).”

The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. State Department have recommended travelers avoid all non-essential travel to China.

The strain comes from the same disease family that can cause more serious illnesses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or SARS, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS, according to the N.C. DHHS.

“Little is known about this new coronavirus, but it does seem to have the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in some, including the those who are elderly, immune compromised and young children,” the N.C. DHHS said in a fact sheet.

“The risk to the general public in North Carolina is considered low at this time, the N.C. DHHS said in a Jan. 29 statement. “NCDHHS is providing guidance to state and local health agencies, health care providers and the general public regarding this rapidly evolving outbreak investigation.

“We continue to monitor the spread of this novel coronavirus very closely,” said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, in the DHHS statement. “While people should take this new virus seriously, at this time of year, respiratory illnesses in people in North Carolina are most likely due to infection with influenza or viruses that cause the common cold.”

Boone-based international charity relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which operates worldwide, doesn’t have any active staff working in China, spokesperson Kaitlyn Lahm said on Jan. 30.

“Our current policy is that staff may not travel to or through China until further notice,” Lahm said. “In addition to this, our medical outbreak specialist is closely monitoring the virus. All country offices are aware of the situation and have been provided with education on the symptoms and techniques to prevent the virus.”

How can you protect yourself?

These healthy habits will help prevent and protect you and your loved ones from respiratory illnesses that include the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and novel coronavirus, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health.

“We want the public to know that we are continuing to maintain close communication with our local partners and are staying informed as this situation changes. One of the best things we can do right now is to stay informed and remember the basic prevention steps of hand washing, getting a flu shot and staying home when sick,” stated Jennifer Greene, health director of AppHealthCare.

Greene clarified that while getting the flu shot is a good, healthy practice and that both the flu and coronavirus can spread the same way, the diseases are not directly linked. The flu, which affects thousands of North Carolinians every winter, usually peaks in terms of number of confirmed cases in January or February. Greene said that getting the flu shot will not necessarily prevent someone from contracting the coronavirus, but added that there’s still a lot of unknowns about the coronavirus.

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds each time. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

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